Research

Fact Sheet: Golan Heights Recognition

- March 25, 2019

Fact Sheet on Golan Heights Recognition

The United States announced Monday that it formally recognizes Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Standing alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House, U.S. President Donald Trump made formal a move he announced last week.

"Today, aggressive action by Iran and terrorist groups in southern Syria, including Hezbollah, continue to make the Golan Heights a potential launching ground for attacks against Israel — very violent attacks," Trump said.

Key Facts:

  1. The announcement builds on bipartisan moves and calls made throughout 2018 to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.
  2. Israel, like any other nation, has the right to defend and secure its borders. Israel cannot risk a permanent entrenchment of Iranian and Hezbollah forces along the eastern shores of the Sea of Galilee.
  3. The announcement is a recognition of reality. Israel offered Syria the Heights in exchange for peace, with all approaches rejected. The civil war in Syria has proven that Bashar al Assad is nothing other than a murderous dictator who must not be given any opportunity for further aggression.
  4. International law distinguishes between unlawful territorial change by an aggressor and lawful territorial change in response to an aggressor. The preamble of UN Resolution 242 talks about “acquisition of territory by war.”
  5. The shift in policy is critical to the strategic security to Israel, regional stability, and in the national security interest of the United States.

History

A strategically significant plateau along Israel’s northeast border with Syria, the Golan Heights provide a vantage point into neighboring parts of Israel, Lebanon, and Syria. Israel captured the territory in the 1967 Six Day War when it repelled an invasion by the Syrian army. Although Israel attempted to return the Heights at the end of the war in exchange for peace, Syria instead attempted to recapture the region in a violent effort during the 1973 Yom Kippur War. The Golan was formally annexed by Israel on December 14, 1981.

Legality

It has been widely-repeated that confirming Israeli sovereignty over the Golan would be in violation of international law as laid out in the UN Charter. While it is true that the crime of aggression is a violation of jus cogens law, the assertion omits crucial exceptions relevant to the case of the Golan Heights.

The architects of UN Resolution 242 were referring to known international legal principles that precluded territorial modifications through aggression. The preamble talks about “acquisition of territory by war.” During the Six Day War, Israel was defending itself from aggression on the part of its Arab neighbors, Syria, Jordan, and Egypt – in other words, the territory was not taken in a war of aggression but constituted a lawful territorial change in response to outside aggressors.

Recognition of Reality

Recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan is simply aligning stance with reality. Israel offered Syria the Heights in exchange for peace, with all approaches rejected. The events of the last seven years have proven that Bashar al Assad – propped up by Iran and Hezbollah – is nothing other than a murderous dictator who must not be given any opportunity for further aggression.

Anything that would allow Hezbollah, and by extension Iran, to threaten Israeli territory increases the chance of war in the Middle East. This means that Israeli possession of the Golan is vital for regional security, including that of Arab states, and is a critical security interest of the U.S.

Hezbollah and Iran

Although Hezbollah is currently in financial distress, leader Hassan Nasrallah has made no secret of the fact that he wants to establish a front in Syria to aid the terrorist organization’s war against Israel. According to the IDF, Ali Mussa Daqduq, who was imprisoned for his role in a 2007 attack that killed five U.S. soldiers, is currently leading a Hezbollah unit whose primary duty is scouting for Israeli targets in the border area.

It is likely that Hezbollah and Iran will use Israel’s presence in the Heights as a pretext for further violence. In order to protect the Middle East’s only true democracy and prevent the region from sliding into all-out war, it is imperative that the world agrees to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan.

Bipartisan Consensus

U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan came after a concerted effort on the part of Israeli officials and through bipartisan support in the U.S. Congress. The issue was also being discussed at the highest levels of the State Department and the National Security Council.

In January, House Majority Whip Steny Hoyer (D – Md.) said, “Israel should maintain control of the Golan Heights.” Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) sent a letter to U.S. President Donald Trump, calling for the official recognition. Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, is also supporting the move. In December, Sens. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Ted Cruz (R-Texas) introduced a resolution that stated, “Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights is critical to Israel’s national security” and that “Israel’s security from attack from Syria and Lebanon cannot be assured without Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.”